04-11-07 Leadership

This Weekly Reader is about leadership. There are at least three reasons why I think it’s important for all of us in DHR to think and talk about leadership. First, meaningful change requires leadership. You can preserve the status quo without leadership, but you won’t change squat.

Second, leadership creates the conversation for accomplishment. Leaders call people to action. They carefully choose the conversations they spend their time in, listen intently, mean and follow through on what they say, and make requests that will be agreed to and will get results.

Third, leadership is not limited to people with authority. Some of the best leaders I know have little formal authority. They move things forward through the ideas they produce, the people they talk to, and the agreement they generate, often without any formal power over anyone. Organizations that make big progress are filled with leaders. Gandhi drove the British out of India without anyone ever giving him and those alongside him managerial titles and job descriptions. There was a good article recently on the MIT-Sloan website about “Leading from Below.” The article talks about a corporate environment but addresses settings that seem to me analogous to DHR. It was reprinted in the Wall Street Journal if you want to take a look:


I know a few people who seem to be natural leaders. But for most of us, leadership is a life-long quest that requires attention, learning, and analysis. I’ve described below a few of my favorite books on leadership, all of which relate to solving difficult organizational and personal challenges, and thus, to my mind, speak to what we are up to here even if they are in a different context.

First some basics, especially for people early in their careers. Accomplished people (especially of a certain age) often use the language of Stephen Covey, so if you haven’t read “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” it’s a must. When someone says dismissively: “he spends all his time in Quadrant Three,” it’s nice to understand what that means (he spends his time on things that are urgent but not important). There is a reason that book has been on the best seller list for umpteen years. One of the best leaders I know re-reads it every year. John Gardner’s classic “On Leadership” has greatly influenced my thinking about educational leadership. Gardner described the poetry of visionary leadership long before vision became a debased buzzword. Another classic is Jim Collins’ “Good to Great.” Collins’ concepts are widely known among the country’s top leaders in every field.

My two favorites for people who have managerial responsibilities are Larry Bossidy’s and Ram Charan’s too-long but excellent book “Execution,” and an out-of-print book by James Autry called “Love and Profit, the Art of Caring Leadership.” Bossidy tells you how to have the hard, disciplined conversations that leadership requires. Autry tells you how to retain your humanity while you’re doing it.

In the educational arena, I like Gordon Donaldson, Jr.’s book “Cultivating Leadership in Schools.” Richard Dufour (any of his books) writes compellingly about leading professional learning communities. His work has in many ways become the lingua franca of school leadership. If anyone knows an inspiring leadership book written by a principal who has turned around a low-performing urban school, please let me know.

My two favorite leadership books for sports fans are “Wooden on Leadership” and Mike Krzyzewski’s “Leading With the Heart.” Wooden set the standard for leading with personal integrity; Krzyzewski shows just how big a request you can make of someone you believe in, and how often talented people will step into what a leader believes is possible. For a great example of how a well-intentioned leader can destroy a team, read Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season” (ok, I’m a basketball fan).

Finally, my favorite book about what stops leaders from succeeding, and what, exactly, can be done about it, is “The Last Word on Power,” by leadership coach Tracy Goss. It’s a tough go, but quite worth it.

I have some of these books in my office. Stop by if you want to borrow one. I also have a collection of leadership books and articles on CDs if you prefer to listen.

03-28-07 Learning from Teach for America

I said I was going to write about leadership and management books this week, but something more interesting intervened. I spent some time in the Teach for America offices, and it really got me thinking.

As most of you know, TFA has been remarkably successful doing what many in education predicted was impossible: placing graduates of the country’s most prestigious universities in our highest-need classrooms. TFA’s ambition, drive, and discipline are legendary, and their results speak for themselves. In 1990, TFA started with a corps of 500. Since then, 17,000 have joined TFA nationwide. About 1,000 TFA teachers are currently teaching at the DOE, and many TFA alumni have moved into DOE leadership roles. (In fact, sixty-five percent of TFA alumni in the New York region stay in education.) TFA continues to grow like crazy, and to attract far more applicants than it can accept. In 2006, 10 percent of the graduating classes from Amherst and Yale, 7 percent from Caltech, and 6 percent from Columbia, Northwestern and Rice applied to TFA. Outcome-based research studies differ to some extent, but on balance, I’m willing to conclude that TFA teachers are on average at least as effective as traditionally prepared teachers, and some studies have found them to be more effective, especially in math.

I think there is a lot to learn from TFA’s extraordinary organizational accomplishments in the face of obstacles many thought were insurmountable. It looks to me like they excel in three important domains:

They are relentlessly clear about what they believe. TFA proclaims that the achievement gap in this country is shameful and intolerable; that it cannot be blamed on poor children and their families; and that it can and must be changed. Here’s an excerpt from the TFA website:

“Each year, a Gallup poll asks the general public why we have low educational outcomes in low-income communities. Out of 20 options, the public answers that the top factors are lack of student motivation, lack of parental involvement, and home-life issues. In answer to the same question with the same 20 options, our corps members respond at the end of their two-year teaching commitments that the top factors are teacher quality, school leadership, and expectations of students. Based on their experiences working with students and families, corps members believe we have an achievement gap in our country not because kids lack motivation or families don't care, but rather because of the choices we're making as a society…..Teach For America alumni are working from all sectors to challenge the prevailing notions about educational inequity, and in turn to inform our priorities, policies, and practices in important ways.”

My bet is you wouldn’t hang around TFA long if you were willing to justify the status quo as out of educators’ control.

The culture is built around taking personal responsibility. This is clear from the TFA core values, which are prominently posted on the New York office wall, visible to employees, applicants, and visitors the minute they step off the elevator:

Relentless pursuit of results - We assume personal responsibility for achieving ambitious, measurable results in pursuit of our vision. We persevere in the face of challenges, seek resources to ensure the best outcomes, and work towards our goals with a sense of purpose and urgency.

Sense of possibility- We approach our work with optimism, think boldly, and greet new ideas openly.

Disciplined thought - We think critically and strategically in search of the best answers and approaches, reflect on past experiences and data to draw lessons for the future, and make choices that are deeply rooted in our mission.

Respect and humility- We value all who are engaged in this challenging work. We keep in mind the limitations of our own experiences and actively seek out diverse perspectives.

Integrity- We ensure alignment between our actions and our beliefs, engage in honest self-scrutiny, and do what's right for the broader good.

Imagine if you wrote an honest description of what the public education bureaucracy is seen as valuing in these domains. How would it contrast to the TFA values?

They live a concrete vision of service to others. This one gets at a key distinction we work on every day in DHR. TFA has made itself an important force in an entrenched national educational system that is known for being hostile to outsiders, and in which few other change agents have gained similar traction. I think that TFA’s success has something to do with the fact that they view educators as valued clients, whose trust and business they must earn. Nobody forces school systems to work with TFA. TFA listens closely to the needs of the schools, principals, and superintendents that they serve, and they design processes and structures that work for their clients, not that are convenient for them. To put it in “DOE terms”, it’s a culture built for performance, not compliance. The leaders at TFA know that they will not accomplish their larger goal of serving kids if they cannot offer great service to the schools they work with.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to build a culture when you have to earn your clients from Day 1….you get it right or the organization ceases to exist. But it’s worth asking: what would happen if schools got to choose whether to do business with DHR? As we redesign HR processes, make the hard transitions to bring HRConnect to fruition, support reorganizations, and continue the work of transforming DHR, I hope we keep asking: what would happen if we had to compete for the right to serve kids? Would we earn it?

03-22-07 More on Educational Research

This Weekly Reader is about the contribution of economists to educational research—arguably the geekiest Weekly Reader topic yet. I realized I might not have ever said explicitly why I think those of us who work in Human Resources should be curious and literate about educational research. I see our job as helping the system find, develop, serve, and nurture a workforce that can cause kids to learn. So the more information we can get about the characteristics and behaviors that cause learning, the better able we’ll be to do our jobs. The link is obvious in the case of teachers. The more we know about what makes teachers successful in the classroom, the better we can help in selecting and training them, and the better we can serve their needs as employees. But it doesn’t stop there. I know a system that, driven by some research findings about kids’ readiness to learn, launched a new approach to hiring, training, and supporting janitors and school bus drivers, because they saw them as people who have important impacts on kids’ attitudes. There’s a whole research field devoted to adult learning theory, which can help us understand what causes our employees to succeed in their own learning challenges. Research also helps us understand how and where limited resources can be put to best use.

So now a little bit about economists. More and more, influential educational research studies seem to be based on econometric models. These models range from simple linear regression, in which we look at the relationship between x and y, plotted as a line (for every x increase in years’ education, there is a y increase in income, for example), to very complex models that can estimate the relationships between many different types of variables. These models allow researchers to look at a whole bunch of factors that might influence gains in student learning, and try to see the impact size and relative importance of each factor. They can pose questions like: “holding students’ socioeconomic status constant, what’s the relative effect of teacher certification?” These kinds of models aren’t unique to economists—they are also the tools of political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists, to name a few. But over the past decade or so, economists seem to have taken the lead in quantitative research in education. The Spencer Foundation, a blue-chip organization that supports research to improve schools, explained the kinds of questions economists ask in this way:

“First, economists tend to focus on costs as well as benefits. They ask, for example, not only whether reducing class size results in improved student learning, but also whether the gains relative to the costs compare favorably with other ways to use scarce resources. In other words, said one participant, "we should move beyond asking ‘does reducing class size help?’ and ask instead ‘how much does it help?’" Second, economics provides a strong theoretical framework, one that is particularly valuable in analyzing the operation of markets. The theory provides guidance about the types of data that are needed to evaluate the consequences of educational policies that concern interventions in markets, such as pay increases for teachers, and educational vouchers for students. Third, economists tend to value long-term as well as short-term outcomes. This is critical to understanding the consequences of many programs. . . . Finally, economists have solid statistical knowledge, particularly in non-experimental statistics. "We know . . . about how to handle situations where you don’t have all the data you want and there are omitted variables in your explanatory equation; that’s one of our strengths. . . .”

For more on the educational research approaches of economists, go to:


In a prior Weekly Reader, I talked about the contributions to our understanding of teacher quality at the DOE that have been made by Tom Kane of Harvard, Jonah Rockoff of Columbia, and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth, all trained economists. If you missed it, you can see this (and all prior Weekly Readers, by the way) at:

http://leighsweeklyreader.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html (scroll down to the 12-05-06 edition)

And if econometric models appeal to your inner geek, here are a couple other guys who have done very interesting work that has made a mark on the national stage:

Next week, some of my favorite books on leadership and organizational management, and why I think they are relevant to our challenges in education.

03-07-07 Research Methods

Conversations about education are often peppered with the phrase “research shows……” But not all research is alike, and I thought it might be useful to provide a brief overview of educational research methods as I see them.

Educational research studies use both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative research relies on statistical analysis to look for relationships, based on samples that are of sufficient size to produce meaningful results. For example, there are several quantitative studies that have shown a relationship between the SAT or ACT scores of teachers and the reading or math scores of the elementary students that they teach. The higher the teacher’s score, the higher the average student score. Since we know that there are important factors other than teacher scores that affect student scores (such as students’ socioeconomic status and students’ prior achievement, for example) studies like these add those variables into the equation in order to control for them. As my former statistics professor used to say, it’s the beauty of mathematics.

The advantage of quantitative research is that it relies on large samples to discern relationships that hold true in general. Thus, quantitative research can be a good basis for making policy decisions. We might decide, for example, that SAT score would be one factor to take into account in screening applicants for teacher positions. There are a few caveats to bear in mind when thinking about quantitative research, however. First, most researchers will only draw conclusions from results that are statistically significant at the .95 confidence level. That means that there is a less than 5 percent chance that the relationship shown is caused by chance. Five percent is small, but it’s not zero---lots of things happen that have less than a 5 percent probability. Thus, we usually would want to see a number of sound, large-scale studies showing the same relationship before we would make a policy decision. Second, we have to beware of spurious correlations. We can show statistically that there is a relationship between students’ shoe size and intelligence as measured by some tests. But we would be nuts to choose kids with big feet for gifted classes: kids will test higher as they age; their feet just come along for the ride. Finally, what’s true in general doesn’t hold true in every case. It’s important to keep the exceptions in mind and avoid making policy that harms those who don’t fit into the general pattern that the research shows. You have to keep your wits about you as you draw conclusions from, and make policy based on, quantitative studies.

While quantitative research usually draws its strength from large numbers, qualitative research is based on close observation and analysis. Sometimes a case study method is used, in which one or more situations of interest are studied in depth in order to try to understand the mechanisms at work. For example, a teacher quality study might focus on what teachers who are rated highly by their principals do in the classroom, in order to draw generalizable conclusions about the methods and behaviors that characterize good teaching. Qualitative research is particularly useful at teasing out answers to the “why” and “how” questions that quantitative research often can’t answer. Once we suspect, for example, that teachers with higher SAT scores might cause higher student achievement, a good follow-up qualitative study might videotape a group of high SAT teachers, and another group of lower SAT teachers, and try to determine how they differ. Maybe teachers with higher SAT scores understand math better. Or maybe they don’t give up in the face of obstacles, or have better self discipline, or set higher expectations. Understanding that would tell us a lot.

Qualitative studies add insight, richness and depth. What we have to bear in mind about qualitative studies, however, is that they are often based on just a few situations, and that observation is fallible. Some of the most effective teachers might not fit a particular researcher’s model of what good teaching should look like. (This is a particular concern of mine, I confess, since some of the people I’ve learned the most from in my life didn’t fit the typical education school picture of good teaching. And when I ask people to describe the teacher who made the most difference for them, I hear about a remarkable range of approaches and styles, some of which are pretty far out of the mainstream mold.) So you can see that I test research approaches against my own experience and observations, too, which some researchers decry, but seems to me essential and anyway unavoidable. (Sociology majors might remember the insights of C. Wright Mills, who drew on the private problems of the individual to help frame the big problems of social science research.)

In some schools of education, the qualitative and the quantitative researchers don’t mix. It’s a classic liberal/conservative standoff in which the qualitative researchers seem to believe that the quantitative researchers have no hearts, while the quantitative researchers seem to believe that the qualitative researchers have no brains. I think both types of research are important. Even the best tools can be misused, and research tools are no different. The key is to be clear about the benefits and limitations of all our research tools, and to remember that we are dealing with the complex lives of real kids in real schools.

I’m on vacation next week, but the following week I’ll provide a little summary of the current state of research on student achievement, and the growing contributions of the economists who are taking quantitative research to a new level.

03-01-07 NAEP Studies

There was important news on the national student achievement front recently. The results of the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (“NAEP”), otherwise known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” are in. It’s not a pretty picture. The average reading score was the lowest since 1992, and not significantly different from 2002. In mathematics, only 23 percent scored at or above the Proficient level. (The mathematics test was new, so it cannot be compared to previous tests.)

Overall, the percentage of 12th grade students performing at or above the Basic level in reading has fallen from 80 percent to 73 percent since 1992, with the percentage performing at or above Proficient declining from 40 to 35 percent during the same time. In 2005, 61 percent of high school seniors performed at or above Basic in math, and 23 percent performed at or above Proficient.

Sadly, previously released scores in science showed a similar trend for 12th graders, with average scores decreasing since 1996 but not significantly different from results in 2000.

The NAEP is a national test that is one of the few ways we can look at academic achievement nationwide. Care is taken to make the sample of test takers representative of students throughout the country, including students from urban, rural, and suburban environments, all regions, and public and private schools. You can see lots of sample questions at all grade levels, and learn more about all the NAEP tests at:


As usual, I encourage you to try some sample questions and see for yourself whether you think they are fair assessments of what we might want kids to know.

At the same time as the Department of Education released the 12th grade NAEP results, it released a new study of high school transcripts. Paradoxically, the transcript study showed that 68 percent of 2005 high school graduates completed at least a standard curriculum, up from 59 percent in 2000, and that the overall grade point average was about one-third of a letter grade higher than in 1990.

Transcripts were collected from about 640 public schools and 80 private schools. These transcripts constituted a nationally representative sample of 26,000 high school graduates, representing approximately 2.7 million 2005 high school graduates. The 2005 results are compared to the results of earlier transcript studies, and differences among graduates by race/ethnicity, gender, and parent education are included in the study. To see more, go here:


The NAEP chairman had this to say: “On the surface, these results provide little comfort and seem to confirm the general concern about the performance of America’s high school students. The findings also suggest that we need to know much more about the level of rigor associated with the courses that high school students are taking.”

As a citizen, as a mother of two high school students, and as someone who cares about what happens for kids, these results alarm me. We’ve made significant progress nationally in increasing student achievement in the lower grades. Now we have to figure out a way to improve student achievement in our high schools.

02-15-07 Fair Student Funding

This Weekly Reader is about Fair Student Funding—an important Children First reform. I have written in the past about where the money for the DOE as a whole comes from. Fair Student Funding concerns how that money gets allocated to schools.

School districts have typically allocated resources to schools, rather than dollars. For example, based on the number of students a school has, a school might get, say, x number of teachers, x number of counselors and other staff, and this or that particular program. Decisions often have been based on immediate concerns rather than on a set formula. Over time, these kinds of allocations can result in some schools getting significantly bigger dollar budgets than others. Here at the DOE, for example, we have an example of one high poverty school receiving almost twice as much per student as another school with a similar poverty level.

Many school districts are now moving away from this type of school funding to a way of allocating money to schools that is perceived as much more fair and transparent. In our system, the Chancellor calls it “Fair Student Funding.” Some also call this type of system “weighted student funding.” Under Fair Student Funding, money for a school is based on the needs of its students. Each student has a weighted funding allocation, based on his or her educational needs. Schools that have higher need students, such as a high percentage of English language learners, get higher allocations. Schools with similar types of students are thus treated alike. There is a great explanation of our Fair Student Funding initiative at:


I think one section from that document is especially important. One of the biggest challenges in implementing Fair Student Funding is how to treat teacher salaries. Here’s a description of how the DOE will approach that difficult issue:

Most of Fair Student Funding concerns the way we allocate money to schools, but there also is one issue about the way we charge schools for staff. The issue is whether schools should be charged the actual costs for their teachers or should be charged only an average cost. Teacher salaries vary widely, from a starting salary around $45,000 to a top salary more than twice that amount excluding fringe benefits). Although our current method of charging schools for teachers is very complicated, for the most part, we now charge schools an average cost. This means that schools get a fixed number of teachers, whatever those teachers cost. Two schools are allocated 20 teachers, for example, and they get enough money to pay those teachers, regardless of the teachers’ salaries. (There are some exceptions, including the treatment of teachers paid with categorical dollars.)

There are good reasons to take the actual costs of teachers into account in school budgeting. For one thing, it’s more accurate. If school budgets are going to show the real investments in each school, they need to show the cost of the teachers in those schools. More important, it’s fairer. Today, less experienced teachers are more likely to teach at the highest-poverty schools. Because these teachers earn less, these schools can have lower budgets. That means they have less money to spend on meeting the needs of kids who need help most — whether by providing more after-school help, reducing class size, or providing additional training to (generally more junior) teachers in that school. If the high-poverty school were charged actual teacher salaries, it would have additional resources left over to meet its students’ needs.

Although these are powerful arguments, we also recognize that charging schools for actual teachers right away would be disruptive for schools with high proportions of senior teachers. One of our core principles is to maintain stability and bring gradual change that preserves critical programs for all our students. So we reject the extremes: either ignoring the actual costs of teachers or charging schools for actual salaries immediately. Instead, we propose a solution in the middle ground, along these lines: When it comes to Fair Student Funding, schools should not be asked to pay the actual costs of teachers who are already on their budgets. However, when hiring teachers into their schools for the first time, principals should be asked to pay actual costs. An approach of this kind builds on the current treatment of teachers paid for with categorical dollars. It will protect schools that already have many high-cost teachers and will also encourage greater fairness and transparency over time.

As in most educational matters, reasonable people differ. Here’s a good blog entry that sets forth some arguments for and against weighted student funding.


I think Fair Student Funding, accompanied by a phase-in period for teacher salaries, is a fair and reasonable way to address resource disparities. As with most difficult resource allocation issues, there is no easy answer. The way I see it, if this were easy, we’d have figured it out a long time ago.

02-07-07 More on a Culture of Performance

I thought I would write a little more this week about the contrast between a culture of compliance and a culture of performance. Last week I talked about the concept of “enabling bureaucracy,” and how an enabling bureaucracy can create a culture of performance, even in a highly regulated setting. For those of you who are interested in the idea, here’s a link to a scholarly article that summarizes how coercive bureaucracies differ from enabling bureaucracies in public agencies:


There are several books I really like that talk about how you can live in a very rule-intensive world and still have a strong culture of performance. In Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity, authors Weick and Sutcliffe studied “high reliability organizations,” such as nuclear reactor operators and aircraft carrier crews—essentially, organizations that cannot afford to mess up. The organizations they examined were very bureaucratic in many respects, with formal hierarchies and strict rules, regulations, and procedures. They identified five processes that all these bureaucratic organizations relied on to drive high performance:

· Preoccupation with failures rather than successes (constant brainstorming about what could go wrong and intense examination of breakdowns)
· Reluctance to simplify interpretations (rejecting simple answers; recognizing the complexity of the environment and consistently digging for deep understanding)
· Sensitivity to operations (understanding that every step in implementation had to be completely thought through, committing talent and resources to excellent operational systems, and listening to operational experts)
· Commitment to resilience (building backup systems and developing personal and team resilience in the face of daunting challenges)
· Deference to expertise (seeking out experts for solutions no matter where they resided in the hierarchy)

They called these five processes, taken as a whole, mindfulness, which they defined as “an underlying style of mental functioning . . . distinguished by continuous updating and deepening of increasingly plausible interpretations of what the context is, what problems define it, and what remedies it contains.” I think this is fabulous, and easy to apply to the kinds of things that we are up to at the DOE—which is probably no less complex in many ways than your average aircraft carrier.

A completely different approach to developing a culture of performance can be found in one of my favorite leadership books: The Art of Possibility, by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. Ben Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, an all-volunteer orchestra. For 25 years, he has motivated a group of volunteer musicians to make extraordinary music, and to perform at the level of the greatest professional orchestras in the country. It’s hard for me to imagine a stricter and more confining set of rules than an orchestral score. Yet Zander’s orchestra is known for its impassioned and surprising performances. In The Art of Possibility, Zander describes how he discovered the importance of encouraging every single member of the orchestra to “lead from every chair.” Zander believes that each musician has the capability to be a leader, no matter how small the part they play. He asks each musician to see him or herself as leading from whatever chair they occupy during the performance. He also allows each musician, at each rehearsal, to contribute insights on how the piece and the conducting can be improved. Zander’s musical advisor describes his rehearsals as “impassioned quests, in which each player in the orchestra joins him in his attempt to find the most truthful and direct path to the meaning of every moment of the music.” I can see why people want to play for him, and why they produce great music. Imagine if we could all approach our jobs with that sort of intensity and focus on extraordinary outcomes. Everyone I recommend this book to loves it, by the way.

Check out the Chancellor’s letter to the editor today in the New York Sun, in which he says, yet again, “I reject the notion that program-driven, incremental reform will ever get us where we need to be.”


You might be able to regulate your way to incremental reform. I’m pretty sure that you can only inspire your way to breakthrough results.

02-01-07 Culture: Compliance vs. Performance

This week’s topic is organizational culture: specifically, the difference between an organizational culture of compliance and an organizational culture of performance. This is a subject dear to the Chancellor’s heart, and one that makes its way into many of his speeches. In many ways, though, I don’t think it’s an easy distinction, especially when you work in an environment like education, which is highly regulated, subject to countless rules and regulations, and bound by complex collective bargaining agreements. How, for pete’s sake, can we move away from a culture of compliance in a world like this? We are clearly not going to stop complying with all our legal, regulatory, and contractual mandates. So what does this really mean?

I think it’s about a difference in the way we approach problems. As a graduate student, I did some research on a concept called “enabling bureaucracy” in schools. (Enabling bureaucracy is a term used in organizational effectiveness research.) What I found was that schools that had enabling bureaucracies had better academic achievement than those that didn’t. Schools with enabling bureaucracies created structures, rules, practices, and attitudes designed to make it easier for teachers to work effectively. There was no lack of organization, clarity, or discipline. There might even be lots of structure and very well-defined processes. But the consistent design principle was to make it easier for teachers to be effective. Principals who created enabling bureaucracies in their schools created clear lines of authority, organized school schedules to support teaching and learning, developed and communicated priorities, did away with (or ignored) needless paperwork, and made sure the school’s procedures were designed so that they did not interfere with teaching priorities.

I suspect that the longer an organization has existed, the more rules and paperwork it often has. This makes sense; we’re much better at creating rules and paperwork than we are at killing them. Most rules and forms just die a slow death from disuse, as the canny operators figure out what they can ignore. Humans are wired to make rules. Have you noticed that whenever something goes wrong, our first inclination is to say: gotta have a rule against this! After a hundred years or so, you’ve got a pretty big rule book. We also like to design our processes so that we’re sure the things we are personally accountable for won’t go wrong (or at least if they do we won’t be blamed)---making sure everybody else out there acts right and doesn’t mess up our stuff (or at least leaves a clear evidentiary trail if they do). I think these are the dynamics that ultimately bring down large organizations.

This is the challenge I see for us: developing and maintaining structures, rules, systems and processes that do good things like provide for clear, timely decisions with all necessary input; capture important organizational knowledge so that it can be shared; give people helpful support and information; encourage consistency and quality; and prevent unacceptable system risks; while keeping student learning as our top design priority. Principals need to be leading schools for student achievement, and teachers need to be fully engaged in creating effective teaching. Everything we do has to be done in a way that keeps these goals paramount. When we can do that, I think we’ll have a culture of performance.

1-25-07 Money

This Weekly Reader is about money. The best educational leaders I know always ask two questions when making decisions: the first is “what does it mean for kids?” and the second is “what does it mean for taxpayers?” In my view, taking care of student learning and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars are the two primary responsibilities of educational leaders. I’ve written a lot about student learning over the past several months, so I thought I’d talk a little bit this week about taxpayers’ money, and how it makes its way to the DOE.

New York City has the largest K-12 education budget in the country. For 2007, the approved budget is around $15.5 billion, excluding certain pension and debt service costs. Overall, about 40% of DOE funds are received from New York City, 45% from New York State, and 14% from the Federal government (the remaining 1% of the budget primarily comes from private funds). By comparison, in 2004-2005 Los Angeles funded 18% of its education budget with city funds, Chicago 42%, and Houston 82%.

The vast majority of the DOE’s budget directly supports schools. Over two-thirds of the budget is spent on direct classroom instruction, another 10% on instructional leadership and support, and another 14% on ancillary student and building services. The remaining 12% of the budget is spent on district and central administrative services and other disparate items. As I pointed out in a previous Weekly Reader, the DOE is a leader among large cities in getting education dollars into the classroom.

The DOE publishes a “Statement of Net Assets” which is in some ways like a corporate balance sheet or personal financial statement. We report almost $14 billion in assets, over 80% of which are in buildings and land. The DOE has just under $4 billion in liabilities, primarily from accrued expenditures, including vacation, sick leave, and judgments. Net assets (total assets minus liabilities) are approximately $10 billion.

In short, we have stewardship of a very big chunk of our tax dollars. For more information about the budget and spending for New York City Schools, including the entire approved budget, go to:


Being good stewards, generally, of $15.5 billion is a big task. Another big task, however, is fairly allocating resources to individual schools. Right now school budgets are very much in the news, as we move forward with Fair Student Funding. Here’s how the Chancellor explains it:

"Today, we send money to schools under 90 separate funding formulas. What is worse, the biggest pots of money follow the weakest logic. They are distributed largely based on historical patterns. That means they carry forward decisions made based on long-ago political deals, not the current needs of our kids.And the results are plain to see. Take two schools with similar enrollments, about 550 kids. They’ve both got high poverty rates, over 80%. One school gets about $5500 per student in general education tax dollars. The other school gets about $3500. That means one school gets $1 million more in general tax dollars than the other. And there is no good reason for it.This is not about rich versus poor, Brooklyn versus the Bronx. This is about senseless disadvantages that strike every community and every corner of our great city. The status quo isn’t fair to the kids at the schools that end up with fewer teachers or programs, or both. The status quo also undermines our accountability system, where too often we hear officials excusing their low performance based on money—even though money may have nothing to do with it.

Instead of proliferating an unjust and unfair status quo, we propose a simple reform called Fair Student Funding. And it is really simple. From here on out, we’re going to fund the people who matter most. We’re going to fund the kids.At every school, every student will carry a base level of tax levy funding based on grade level. Then, on top of that, we’ll offer additional funds to kids who cost more to educate based on their unique characteristics: because they are poor, learning English, performing poorly, or in certain specialized schools, like our testing high schools. So a 7th grader might carry $3500, plus an extra $300 if she is poor, and an extra $1000 if she reads poorly on the day she entered middle school. So under fair student funding, two schools with the same mixes of kids will get the same amounts of city tax dollars. (In addition, they’ll also continue to get federal and state categorical dollars, like Title I, as they had before) It is so simple that we’ll eventually be able to explain to principals most of their budgets on one clean page. Simplicity and fairness are virtues, but they are both means to our ultimate end: student achievement. Our new approach does so:

· By taking away the excuse that unfair funding has forced low achievement,

· By building in incentives for schools that succeed in helping our lowest performing students; and

· By laying the foundation for greater parental choice among our public schools in the future.

Fair student funding is an exciting vision, but it is also a vision we will achieve one step at a time. We are going to implement it gradually and flexibly, over a period of several years. We are going to avoid drastic swings and do this in a way that protects the important programs in all of our schools. And we are going to move forward with the benefit of the views of parents teachers and other stakeholders. Starting next week we will be initiating an extensive schedule of community engagement through which I have no doubt that this initiative will be refined and improved.

Continue to watch the DOE website for updates on this and our other Children First Initiatives. And please send me your ideas for Weekly Reader topics. As every teacher knows, the best way learn about something is to have to explain it. Many thanks this week to my financial colleagues here for teaching me about the budget.

1-18-07 Important Changes at DOE

I promised to write about money this week, but it’s a week of important announcements, and I thought it best to interrupt our regularly scheduled program to encourage everyone to read about the DOE’s new steps in putting Children First. Go here for the Mayor’s speech, and follow the link there to see a more complete description of the changes that are coming:


Here’s how I see it. No matter how difficult change is, we cannot protect the status quo. New York has made more progress over the last few years than most urban districts, but even after a lot of progress, four out of ten of our kids are not graduating from high school on time. Six out of ten 8th graders are below grade level in English and math. I wouldn’t accept that for my own children, and I won’t accept it for anyone else’s. So I support anything that has a fighting chance of substantially changing the odds for all the kids we are entrusted with.

I know this: after the zillion dollars that have been poured into educational research and educational reform efforts over the last few decades, no easy, painless formula for urban school success has emerged. One thing we do know is that urban schools that really succeed for their kids almost always have strong principals who have the power to manage their schools in a way that works for their particular situations. It makes sense to me. Reasonable people, full of goodwill, differ greatly about the right formula for change, and all of us really care about kids. But we’ve got to make a good bet and move forward, because we cannot accept the status quo. I don’t see another choice.

Here’s the other thing I know. Nobody anywhere is devoting more talent, more thought, more experience, and more hard work to creating a new future for kids than New York City schools. I’m really proud to be here.

1-09-07 Hot Topics in 2007

Happy New Year. I predict that 2007 will be an interesting year in education policy. We seem to have a national sense of urgency, which could drive at least the start of some big changes. There are three areas where I think we will see a lot of action:

Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: NCLB, originally sponsored by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) in the Senate, and George Miller (D-CA) and John Boehner (R-OH) in the House, was passed in 2001 with overwhelming bipartisan support. (The vote was 87-10 in the Senate; 381-41 in the House). NCLB is up for re-authorization this year. Here are some of the recommendations for improvements, representing a variety of ideas and perspectives:

From Mayor Bloomberg and Florida Governor Jeb Bush:


From the American Federation of Teachers (the national organization of which the UFT is an affiliate):

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\AFTNCLBrecs[1].pdf

From Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation:


From the National School Boards’ Association, the Childrens’ Legal Defense Fund and 99 other signers:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\NCLBreauthNSBA.doc

Teacher compensation – A number of states and jurisdictions are experimenting with approaches to teacher compensation that go beyond the traditional lock-step compensation system based on experience and education credits. Last year, the US Department of Education announced a $400-plus million grant program to fund grants for innovative teacher compensation programs. These grants are fueling a lot of experimentation. The Consortium for Policy Research, based in the University of Wisconsin, has done a series of case studies of alternative compensation systems, including state-based systems in Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa, and district-based systems in Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Dallas. You can access the studies here:


As the results of all these experiments become more apparent, we are likely to hear more and more about the pros and cons of changing the traditional system.

Finally, closer to home, New York City Schools’ funding—The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit has finally come to a conclusion in the courts. The legislature and Governor Spitzer now have the ball. We’ll see what happens.

Next week, a short explanation of where the money comes from for NYC schools

12-19-06 New Report; High School Closing

Two important things happened in education last week—one national, one local.
On the national front, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce issued its report “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” This bipartisan commission includes many of the most influential thinkers on education policy today, including Chancellor Klein, former Senator and Secretary of Labor William Brock, former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, former Michigan governor John Engler, Professor Sharon Kagan of Teachers College, Past President of the Toledo Federation of Teachers Dal Lawrence, former Secretaries of Education Paige and Riley, and former Boston Superintendent Tom Payzant, among others. The report was described in a Wall Street Journal editorial by Mayor Bloomberg as “a sobering assessment of our nation's education system.“

The report points out that “American students and young adults place anywhere from the middle to the bottom of the pack in all three continuing comparative studies of achievement in mathematics, science, and general literacy in the advanced industrial nations. . . . It is easier and easier for employers everywhere to get workers who are better skilled at lower cost than American workers.” To stay competitive, says the Commission, we will need a workforce with “a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history, and the arts,” that can compete in a world “in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to a good life, in which high levels of education – a very different kind of education than most of us have had – are going to be the only security there is.”

The Commission makes a series of recommendations that would change the face of education as we know it. These are, briefly:

1) “Assume that we will do the job right the first time” – in the European model, create Board Examinations in core subjects, of comparable rigor to other industrialized countries, typically to be taken at the end of 10th grade. These examinations will certify students as ready for higher level academic work—either at the community college level or in the equivalent of an International Baccalaureate program.
2) “Make much more use of available resources” – Redeploy resources saved by the first item in order to recruit and deploy a teaching force from the top third of the high school students going to college, build high quality early childhood education, and direct resources to disadvantaged students.
3) “Recruit from the top third of the high school graduates going on to college for the next generation of teachers” – change teacher compensation by making retirement benefits comparable to the better firms in the private sector, and use the money saved to increase teachers’ salaries, building a more differentiated career ladder for teachers.
4) “Develop standards, assessments and curriculum that reflect today’s needs and tomorrow’s requirements” – stress creativity and innovation, facility with ideas and abstractions, and the self-discipline and organization needed to manage work.
5) “Create high performance schools and districts everywhere” – Rethink the role of school boards as managers of schools, and allow public schools to be created by teachers and other independent contractors who are held accountable by school boards to high performance standards
6) “Provide high quality universal early childhood education”
7) “Give strong support to the students who need it most”
8) “Enable every member of the adult workforce to get the new literacy skills”
9) “Create personal competitiveness accounts – a GI bill for our times”
10) “Create regional competitiveness authorities to make America competitive”

I predict that this will be an influential report, and that these ideas will begin cropping up in a number of places. Here’s a link to the Executive Summary. The entire report will be released in bookstores and through Amazon on December 22.

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\ToughChoices_EXECSUM.pdf

On the local front, the DOE announced the closing of five high schools. Three are large high schools in Brooklyn: Lafayette (1850 students, graduation rate of 39%), Tilden (2000 students, graduation rate of 44%) and South Shore (1990 students, graduation rate of 44%). Two are small schools in Manhattan: Urban Peace Academy (340 students) and School for the Physical City (382 students). These schools will not accept incoming freshmen next year and will gradually phase out over three years, to be replaced with new small schools.

I think these schools deserve a moment of silence. Even when performance is unacceptable and closing is the best thing for students, it’s a wrenching process to close a school, especially a big high school with a rich history. Lafayette, for example, was founded in 1939, and dedicated by Fiorello LaGuardia. Sandy Koufax and Larry King graduated from Layfayette. Al Sharpton, Willie Randolph, and former White House counsel Len Garment graduated from Tilden. There was a time when New York’s high schools were among the best urban schools in the country, routinely turning out leaders in all walks of life—not to mention baseball legends. It’s a sad end for these once-great schools. We owe it to New York to close them elegantly, and to replace them with schools that produce a new generation of leaders.

12-13-06 Standardized Testing

This Weekly Reader is about standardized testing. Given how controversial a topic testing can be, I thought it might be useful to provide a little information on standardized tests generally and on New York’s tests in particular.

There is no magic to the term “standardized” test. A test is “standardized” when it is designed to be given in the same way every time, usually with the same degree of difficulty. This allows you to fairly compare the results among different groups of test takers. A “standardized” test is a good way to see how any particular test taker compares to others, or to compare groups of test takers. We use standardized tests in situations where we want to see if the test taker has attained a certain performance standard; in competitive situations, like college admissions; and in situations where we want to see how particular schools, districts or states compare to others.
It is important to differentiate between a test and the purpose for which the test is used. A test is simply a tool, kind of like a scale. I may have a perfectly accurate scale that gives me very useful information about whether I need to lay off the cookies. But it would usually not be considered appropriate to make weight a condition of employment. Same with tests. A test may be perfectly valid and informative in measuring the skills it purports to measure, yet the outcome may be used for an irrelevant or inappropriate purpose. Thus, in forming opinions about tests, we should ask two questions: first, is the test a fair tool for measuring what we want to measure, and second, are we using the results in a reasonable way?

Like almost all states, New York requires that students take state proficiency tests. These tests are designed to measure mastery of concepts and material that are embodied in the state’s learning standards. These standards are the official statement of what students in the state should fairly be expected to know and be able to do at particular grade levels. New York’s Board of Regents has adopted a set of
28 learning standards for grades 3-8, for seven subject areas: Mathematics, Science and Technology; English Language Arts; Social Studies; Languages Other than English; Health, Physical Education and Family Consumer Sciences; The Arts; and Career Development and Occupational Studies. You can see the standards here:

The standards give rise to a set of core curricula, which add depth to the standards and provide more specificity about exactly what should be taught at each grade level:

The state’s testing program is “designed to evaluate the implementation of the learning standards at the student, school, district, and state level.” New York’s tests are developed by CTB/McGraw Hill, one of the largest commercial test developers. (CTB/McGraw Hill also develops various forms of the Terra Nova test, which is one of the most commonly used standardized tests in the country.)
Test developers begin by fashioning a pool of questions that they believe will measure students’ mastery of the learning standards. Typically the tests contain a mix of multiple choice and what we call “constructed response” (or short answer) questions. Depending on the test, there may also be “extended response” (or long answer) questions. Care is taken to develop multiple choice questions that measure skills and understanding, rather than memorized answers. Constructed response questions in math often ask students to illustrate the concepts and processes involved in finding the answer.

The questions are reviewed from several perspectives, including readability at grade level; alignment to the learning standards; contexts that are appropriate; and clear and concise language. Based on the recommendations of the review committees, the test questions are accepted, revised, or rejected, and an approved pool of questions is created. These questions are then field tested, in order to determine how they work with real kids. Based on field testing, some items may be discarded. After the questions are field tested, range-finding meetings are held to establish guidelines for scoring each question. Committees of teachers participate in selecting sample papers that exemplify each score point. These anchor papers form the basis of the scoring guide that will be used in scoring the operational tests.

Tests are then “normed” and “scaled”. Norming is simply the process of giving the test to a sufficiently large, representative group of students to see how they do. Scaled scores convert raw scores into a scoring pattern that fits a normal curve. Because scaled scores represent equivalent levels of difficulty, scaled scores allow comparisons among different test forms or across years.

New York City Schools administers state tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8, Social Studies in grades 5 and 8, and Science in grades 4 and 8. (The results of the annual English Language Arts and Mathematics tests allow us to see the year-over-year growth in achievement that we talk about when we refer to “value-added” student achievement growth.) There are a number of other tests for specialized situations such as English as a second language or competitive high school admissions.

Another important test taken by New York students is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as NAEP or "the Nation's Report Card.” (A previous weekly reader discussed New York City’s outcomes on this test.) NAEP is a “nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas.” Since many states develop their own tests, the NAEP is seen as a way to compare educational outcomes across states and cities. In 2005, ten urban school districts, including New York, participated in the NAEP “Trial Urban District Assessment” in
reading, mathematics, and science at grades 4 and 8. New York City compared favorably to other urban districts in many ways. You can see all the results here:

And now for the fun part: here are a couple sample questions from the 4th and 8th grade NAEP math tests, along with a link to more, as well as a link to sample questions at the 4th and 8th grade levels for the state mathematics tests. See what you think:

Sample question 4 is a multiple-choice question in the algebra content area. This question asked students to infer a rule and find the next term in a sequence. The terms in this sequence are the squares of consecutive odd numbers.
1, 9, 25, 49, 81,...
4. The same rule is applied to each number in the pattern above. What is the 6th number in the pattern?

A) 40
B) 100
C) 121
D) 144
E) 169
60 percent of eighth-graders answered this question correctly.
For more NAEP questions, go here:


For sample state questions, go here:

12-05-06 Teachers IV (Research)

I was in several meetings this week where the following question came up in one form or another: what do we know about the relative effectiveness of the teachers that we select? The answer often began with “well, Jonah says. . . ,” which then prompted the predictable question “who’s Jonah?” I realized that it might be nice make sure everyone knows: “who’s Jonah?” and to take the opportunity to update you on recent research findings about New York teachers.

Jonah is Jonah Rockoff, a professor of economics and finance at Columbia Business School. He is one of a group of researchers with economics backgrounds and fluency in advanced statistical models who have examined the relative effectiveness of alternative certification and traditional pathways recruits here at the DOE. These researchers also include Douglas Staiger, an economics professor from Dartmouth, and Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard. Here are their websites, if you’d like to take a look:




Kane, Rockoff and Staiger used a sophisticated statistical model (remember the Weekly Reader that discussed “value-added” models that identify gains in student achievement?) to compare the effectiveness of the DOE’s alternately certified and traditionally credentialed teachers. They concluded that:

“On average, the certification status of a teacher has at most small impacts on student test performance. However, among those with the same certification status, there are large and persistent differences in teacher effectiveness. This evidence suggests that classroom performance during the first two years, rather than certification status, is a more reliable indicator of a teacher’s future effectiveness.”

Here’s a link to the entire paper:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\KaneRockoffStaiger2006.pdf

Jim Wyckoff and a group of researchers affiliated with the SUNY Albany and Stanford University have also examined the effectiveness of DOE teachers from various pathways. They, too, found only relatively small differentials among pathways, which varied by grade and subject. They concluded that the more important inquiry lay in determining attributes that, irrespective of pathway, make for effective teaching:

“The current analysis does not address a number of important policy questions. We find substantial variation within pathways of teachers’ ability to increase student achievement. What accounts for these differences? How do the measures of teacher qualifications, such as certification exams scores, quality of institution and performance in undergraduate and graduate education as well as area of certification affect teachers’ ability to enhance student learning? From the perspective of teacher preparation, what attributes of preparation are most important in increasing student achievement? . . . . We want to understand what accounts for the substantial differences among teachers, even within pathways, in their abilities to influence student achievement. We are in the process of exploring answers to these questions.”

Here’s are links to the entire paper, to Wyckoff’s website, and to the SUNY/Stanford research group:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\WyckoffetalPolicy.pdf

Vicki and Peter are working with Jim and this group of researchers as they explore more fully the questions they have raised.

The findings from New York are consistent with a body of research emerging from other districts. This research is beginning to drive national policy discussions. The best, most provocative paper that ties much of the research together and discusses implications for policies regarding teacher credentialing, hiring, and tenure was done for the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, co-authored by Kane, Staiger, and Robert Gordon, who is now at the DOE advising the Chancellor.

In this policy paper, Gordon et. al reaffirm that “teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certified or not is largely irrelevant to predicting his or her effectiveness.” They go on to point out that “while certification status was not very helpful in predicting teacher impacts on student performance, teachers’ rankings during their first two years of teaching does provide a lot of information about their likely impact during their third year.” Based on this evidence, they recommend that barriers to entry into the teaching profession be reduced, and that tenure decisions become much more rigorous and include safeguards against tenuring those teachers who have proven to be least effective. If you were going to read only one education policy paper this year, I suggest that this be the one:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\200604hamilton_1[1].pdf

If you want more or don’t have the patience for educational research papers, here are a couple interesting short summaries of current research on teacher effectiveness:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\iesboardsept2006.ppt
(a powerpoint presentation by Katie Haycock of the Education Trust that takes a wide ranging look at this research and what we need to do with it, presented at the national conference of a department of the US Department of Education)

http://www.harvardmagazine.com/on-line/110620.html (an interesting brief article in Harvard magazine)

It’s a great time in education, as we grapple with what we know and what we can find out about the characteristics of those who can really drive student achievement growth in our schools and classrooms. Stay tuned

11-21-06 Teachers III

More on teachers this week.

As you know, New York City teachers must be certified to teach by the state of New York. There are two primary certification pathways. The traditional way to become a teacher is through a university teacher training program. A typical program would be a masters degree program in education, specializing in elementary, middle or secondary, perhaps with a further specialization in a subject area. To become certified, you must be recommended by your college or university and pass several standardized tests. For example, to become a middle school teacher, you might satisfactorily complete a degree in middle childhood education, and then pass the Liberal Arts & Science Test, the Secondary Assessment of Teaching Skills, and a multi-subject Content Specialty Test.

Education scholars (surprise!) have differing views about teacher education programs. Arthur Levine, the former head of Teachers College at Columbia University, co-authored a paper this year that concluded that many of the nation’s education schools “have inadequate curricula, low admissions and graduation standards, faculty disconnected from the K-12 schools, and insufficient quality control.” Here’s the one page press release that describes the report:

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\LevineEdTeachers_report_0906[1].pdf

Education schools were quick to disagree with the Levine report. The head of NCATE, the voluntary accreditation body for schools of education, had this to say:
“Perhaps most disturbing is the report’s implicit elitism. The author deplores the fact that the majority of teachers in America are prepared at less selective institutions. We might all wish that elite institutions would produce a more significant share of America’s teachers but, given the economics of higher education and the teaching profession, that has never occurred in the past, nor does it appear likely to happen anytime in the foreseeable future.” Here’s his response from the NCATE website:


Another frequent writer about teacher education is Linda Darling-Hammond. She has a new book, Powerful Teacher Education, which profiles a number of teacher education programs she finds particularly effective, including New York’s Bank Street. One of her short articles on teacher education is here:


The DOE is the national leader in developing teachers through alternative certification pathways. These pathways allow career-changers to start teaching immediately, while earning the master’s degree that leads to a full teaching license. Here are a couple websites that describe our main routes to alternative certification. If you want some inspiration, check out the testimonials from program participants.

New York City Teaching Fellows (the primary program through which we recruit alternatively certified teachers):


Teach for America (a national program from which we draw teachers):


The New Teachers Project (this is the non-profit organization that runs the day-to-day operations of our Teaching Fellows program)


We know that teachers matter. What we don’t understand very well is exactly how effective teachers differ from ineffective teachers, and what types of teacher training programs best prepare teachers to be effective in the classroom. One thing that is exciting about being in education now is that there is so much great research going on, including here at the DOE, to hone in on great teaching. More about that another week.

11-14-06 Teachers II

This week’s topic is Teachers, Part II. Last week, I began with the observation that any parent will tell you that the quality of teaching is the most important part of any child’s school experience. Interestingly, we’ve only recently developed the research tools in education to support this common sense notion.

For a long time, statistical studies in education found that the effects of socio-economic status were so strong a determinant of educational achievement that it was easy to conclude that schools really couldn’t make much of a difference. The famous Coleman report from 1966, for example, concluded that: “only a small part of [student achievement] is the result of school factors, in contrast to family background differences between communities.”

In the past 10 years, however, these results have been called into question. For example, statistical researchers have developed much more sophisticated techniques for identifying factors that lead to academic achievement, irrespective of socio-economic status. These techniques allow us to look past socio-economic status and begin to isolate what matters in schools. And guess what? It turns out that teachers matter a great deal. The primary vehicle for making this determination has been a research technique that has come to be known as value-added analysis. Rather than measuring students’ absolute achievement levels, value-added analysis measures how much each student has grown academically over the course of a school year. Value-added analysis allows you judge students’ actual growth compared to the growth that would be expected based on similar students, irrespective of the students’ starting point. This analysis can be done at the classroom level, which reveals the learning growth caused by individual teachers. Using value-added analysis, a number of large scale recent studies have shown that the quality of the individual teacher matters a lot. (By the way, the DOE’s accountability initiative will use a type of value-added analysis as one component of determining school quality.)

Value-added analysis shows statistically what parents have known all along. For example, a well-known study in Tennessee found that for low-achieving students, teachers in the bottom quintile produced academic gains of about 14 percentile points during the school year. Teachers in the top quintile, on the other hand, produced gains that averaged 53 percentile points. This same study showed that elementary students who had 3 bottom quintile teachers in a row grew by only 29% over the three years; those who had 3 top quintile teachers in a row grew by about 83%. Even more striking, the effect of three bottom quintile teachers in a row seems to persist well after the student is assigned to more effective teachers. It is very hard for a student to recover from three ineffective teachers in a row, no matter how effective the teacher to whom they may subsequently be assigned. Numerous other studies, using varying types of value-added methodologies, show similar results.

If you want to know more about studies of teacher effects, including the one above, here’s a nice, if a little dated, report from the Education Trust.

K:\Pool\Leigh's Weekly Reader\Haycock Good Teaching Matters.pdf

This is pretty geeky stuff, but it’s very important. Once we can reliably identify teachers who produce greater than average growth over time, we can begin to discover what they do differently from other teachers. Indeed, just such a project has been underway in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Based on multiple years of value-added data, a local foundation identified teachers who produced top quartile growth. They then did an extensive study of those teachers, resulting, among other things, in a series of tapes that captured their teaching techniques. You can see the results of this research and a description of the tapes here:


Good teachers matter. Next week, a little more about the daily lives of teachers, and a few perspectives on teacher education.

11-08-06 Teachers

This Weekly Reader is about teachers. As most parents are quick to tell you, what matters for kids’ learning is what happens in the classroom every day.

The DOE currently has almost 77,000 active teachers. About 7,000 new teachers were hired for the start of this school year. About 2,200 of those came through alternative certification programs. These programs, which are the largest and most innovative in the nation, bring into our schools highly qualified people who have usually done other things before deciding to teach. Most of teachers we source teach in critical shortage areas like math and science.

The DOE this week reached tentative agreement on a new contract with the UFT, the bargaining unit for teachers, which will significantly raise teachers’ salaries. The agreement raises salaries over two years so that by 2008 a new teacher will start at over $45,000 and the most experienced teachers will make over $100,000. Another important provision of the new agreement, which was a priority for Betsy, is a peer review program that will pair tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory with an independent outside reviewer who will provide assistance and assessment. The contract still must be ratified by union vote. Here’s a good news article about the contract:


Teaching is a complex art that calls on a broad range of skills, which have to be deployed wisely and with discretion. Betsy recently introduced me to a new long essay, called John Adam’s Promise, by Jon Saphier, a masterful teacher educator who has a wonderfully nuanced view of teaching. (Some of you may know him from his work with Rick DuFour, another hero of the teaching profession for his work on professional communities.) I’ve attached to this newsletter a short executive summary. It is really good, worth looking at. The entire essay can be found here, if you want to download it:


John Adam’s promise, by the way, was that the government would take responsibility for making good education available throughout the country, to all citizens, because the preservation of democracy depended on it.

More on teachers next week, but I have to circle back to principals again. As you know by now, my view is that they are the force that causes good teaching to occur, by selecting, coaching, and developing teachers, and by organizing the school to support good teaching. Over the past couple weeks, I asked for descriptions of why it is important for those of us at Court Street to understand principals’ jobs. Thank you to everyone who took time out of a busy day to think about this question. I have picked four descriptions that I love. Each looks at the question very differently, and all of them are wonderful.

Number 1 wrote:

Children's laughter is not heard here (at Court St.). Their triumphs and defeats do not follow us home. Yet we are as responsible for them as every principal in every school. Principals are the foundation and we are the ground that supports them. To support, one must first understand. So we learn from every source available and we listen when principals call out for guidance. For every principal we help, we help a school filled with children.

From Number 2:

Schools are where the action is and principals run schools. Understanding principals’ jobs offers us a 360-degree view into the world of schools. To fulfill our service oriented role, we must see and understand this view.

Number 3 contributed:

It is important for us to understand principals’ jobs because they are responsible for the kids in our schools, which are the primary reason for our employment. We should specifically understand the various roles a principal serves every day, so that we can help our principals become the most effective educators, motivators, and problem solvers in today’s society.

And from Number 4:

Understanding principals’ jobs is a key factor in driving DHR support levels for these school-based CEOs. Not understanding their responsibilities and challenges diminishes our work in achieving DOE’s strategic and operational initiatives. DHR serves a key function to the Chancellor. The current drive toward empowerment and accountability requires strong support for principals in order for DHR to be a strong contributor to the DOE.

We will have a fabulous lunch for five. No telling what will come out of that

10-30-06 Academic Achievement

This week's Weekly Reader focuses on academic achievement. I think it's important to know something about student achievement, because no matter what our job title, that’s our job. Everything we do, whether it’s hiring teachers, reporting school opening statistics, or redesigning processes, is done so that kids can learn. And the good news is that New York’s kids are learning, although we still have a long way to go.

This week the Chancellor announced the results of state mathematics tests for kids in grades 3-8. Yet again, New York’s kids outgained kids from across the state. For a complete summary of the results and how they compare to statewide results, go here:


Although state test results are meaningful, one of the difficult things is that all the state test are different, so that it’s hard to know if a kid who is proficient in New York would also be proficient in California, for example. The primary way of comparing performance among states is the test known as NAEP, or national assessment of educational progress, which tests samples of kids in all states to allow for national comparisons. In recent years, there has also been a NAEP test given in selected urban districts, so that districts like New York can compare themselves to districts with similar challenges. The last results were in 2005, and New York compared very favorably to other large urban districts. To see the results, start with the link below. You can easily navigate from there to see other results and even some sample questions. (By the way, it’s really fun to look at sample questions…..with all the controversy about standardized tests I think it’s illuminating to look at some actual questions and ask yourself whether they seem to be fair assessments of what we would want kids to know.)


Finally, for some reading on student achievement from a policy perspective, take a look at the recent report from the Education Trust, one of the leading forces for educational change in the country. In “Yes We Can: Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths About Race and Education in America,” the Education Trust presents compelling evidence of what we already knew: that all kids, no matter what their race, can be held to high standards. The report describes a number of primarily African-American schools and districts that are shooting the lights out in terms of performance, and presents the results of a study that shows that, when you control for socio-economic status, children of color on average arrive at school slightly more ready to learn than other children. Yet again, evidence that there can be no excuses when we fail to educate kids. The Education Trust is a widely respected player in the field of education policy, and their website is a great place to learn about current issues in school reform and closing the achievement gap. Better yet, their reports are blessedly short and always have a summary.


Don’t forget to send me articles of interest, and let me know what you’d like to hear about.


11-1-06 Principals II

This weekly reader is “Principals, Part II.” There are two reasons for talking about principals two weeks in a row: first, I wanted to see if I could get some more entries into my “why is it important for us to understand principals’ jobs?” contest. The winning answer (in 50 words or less) wins not just fame and glory, but a great lunch in the Brooklyn fine dining establishment of your choice. You don’t even have to go with me. We’ll just call it lunch for two. Live a little…..send me your entry by Monday Nov. 6.

The second reason is that over the next several years, the DOE will focus increasingly on empowering principals and holding them accountable for results. The clearest articulation of this change is in the Chancellor’s speech to the AMA, found at:


It’s worth reading again, even if you’ve already read it, because it describes so powerfully the culture change that the Chancellor believes is essential to realizing his vision of every school in New York being a school to which we would send our own kids.

To support principals well in the world the Chancellor envisions, we will have to understand their jobs and accountabilities, and be able to imagine the kind of human capital planning and support a system of empowered and accountable schools might need.

For example, starting this year, all schools will receive a quality review done by Cambridge Associates, an organization with extensive experience reviewing schools in the UK and here. The reviews will assess schools on more than 20 quality indicators, and the conclusions from these reviews will be made public. Here are a few examples of quality statements upon which schools will be rated:

---“Staffing decisions are driven by the needs revealed by student data and by the focused plan the school has developed to improve each student’s and group of students’ outcomes”

---“Leaders, faculty and staff are selected based on their high expectations for student performance and progress and based on their commitment and capacity to use data, compare outcomes within and across classrooms and schools and develop and revise plans and methods to improve performance and progress.”

--“Teachers are accountable for improving instruction and student outcomes. They plan and differentiate their instruction based on the needs revealed by student data and by the focused plan the school has developed to improve each student’s and groups of students’ outcomes.”

Food for thought, isn’t it? How could such leaders, teachers and staff be recruited, selected, placed, and supported, as educators and as employees? What action plans, accountabilities, research, and reporting would have to be in place here?

Of course, New York is not the only school district to move in this direction. In the first weekly reader, I included links to some information from Edmonton and Houston, two districts that have moved quite far in empowering principals to control their own school budgets. Here’s a link to download an interesting (and short) Rand report that discusses the new emphasis on giving principals more control over the decisions that affect their schools:


Many of you likely know this quote from T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia):

“All men dream, but unequally. Those that dream at night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake the next day to find that their dreams were just vanity. But those who dream during the day with their eyes wide open are dangerous men; they act out their dreams to make them reality.”

I love working in dangerous places.